The dedicated efforts of a handful of talented high school students paid off recently at the Gallaudet University Academic Bowl in which Kamiah teen Maizy Wilcox competed with her three teammates from the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind.
Approximately 20 teams of deaf/hard of hearing students from across the region gathered at the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf in Arizona for the chance to compete at the National level in Washington, D.C. in April.
Underdogs going into the regional competition, the little known team from Gooding, Idaho placed in the top three, an achievement they did not expect after placing second to last in last year’s event.
“It’s cool that they’re putting Idaho on the map,” said Maizy’s mom Amy.
A sophomore at Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, Maizy attended Kamiah’s public schools until last year when she realized a specific need for something that regular schools just couldn’t provide. Maizy needed better skills to communicate.
Maizy was diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss bilaterally when she was a toddler. “I feel bad because I didn’t know she couldn’t hear, I just thought she wasn’t paying attention,” said Amy.
Once it was discovered that Maizy could hear very little of the world around her, her parents sought out ways to expand their daughter’s communication skills. “She didn’t realize until she learned to sign how much communication she was missing out on,” said Amy.
Naturally, the choice to get hearing aids for Maizy would allow her to hear much more than she had before, but they weren’t the solution to all her problems.
After spending most of her life in an atmosphere designed for a hearing audience, Maizy realized there was something more to communication besides the inadequate sounds provided by her hearing aids. “They are electronics, not your actual body,” explained Maizy. “A lot of people think hearing aids make you hear perfect, but it’s not like that. You can hear everything louder, but it picks up some sounds that a normal hearing person wouldn’t be hearing as well.”
For example, when you sit in your living room, more than likely there are several sounds coming from around the house that you probably don’t even think about. The hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen, the traffic outside, the click of the furnace turning on, and much more sounds we refer to as “background noises.” For a person with hearing aids, those secondary noises may have the same volume as a person’s voice; making it difficult to adequately hear what is being said.
“I kind of learned how to guess really well, because I don’t think I can fully hear someone; I’ll never be able to, even with hearing aids,” explained Maizy. “I learned how to pick up pieces of what people say and then just figure out what they’re saying, what the topic is, what the words they’re mumbling could be.”
“That’s why it was so important for her to go down there [to ISDB] and have a different language open up to her,” said Amy. “Looking back, it kind of breaks my heart because this school has been amazing for her to open that door to her and get full communication between teachers and coaches and her peers.
“They talk a lot about hearing fatigue in hard of hearing people, they have to work so much harder than everyone else to figure out what people are talking about or saying,” added Amy.
There are many benefits for a student facing obstacles such as hearing loss or blindness if they are able to attend a specialized school that is structured around providing a quality all-inclusive education. “When I dropped her off for school last year, I walked into the building and you can instantly feel the love the teachers and staff members have for these kids, and they want them to succeed; they celebrate their successes,” said Amy. “Don’t get me wrong, the schools in Kamiah have great staff and teachers, but Maizy couldn’t get the personalized education she needed here.”
While it can get a bit hectic with her home life and traveling back and forth to school every weekend, Maizy says it’s worth it. “Going to school there, my mind is so much clearer; I can actually think like a normal person does. When I went to a school without sign language, I was just exhausted, and wasn’t that creative because I just wanted to sleep all of the time.”
“I miss her alot,” said Maizy’s dad Bob. “When she comes home she’s studying like crazy, she’s worked hard for what’s she’s gotten that’s for sure.”
Attending ISDB opened up many opportunities for Maizy; the Academic Bowl is just an outlet for her to expand her education and allow her creativity to flourish. “Last year when we went to regionals in California, I was so nervous, I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Maizy. “This year I was kind of clear headed, I was ready, I was excited! I knew what I was doing so I did a lot better.”
Encompassing subjects studied in school, the Academic Bowl is a platform students can use to demonstrate their knowledge of Math, English, Science, History, current events, art, and deaf history. “If you pay attention in school, most of the questions are what you learn in class,” added Maizy.
“She’s smart like her mom, she can read a lot of books really quick and retain a lot. It’s pretty amazing watching her sit down and go through that many books that fast and go to the knowledge bowl and do so good, along with the rest of her team,” said Bob.
While she is really looking forward to competing with her team at nationals in Washington, D.C. next month, Maizy is hoping the little team from Idaho will keep climbing the Academic Bowl ladder for a chance to compete in Hawaii next year.